£16,000 bill for hotels on credit card at centre of police probe

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SPENDING on a publicly-funded credit card now under police investigation included more than £16,000 on hotels, £9,000 on air fares – and a further £1,300 on car hire from a regional airport.

In excess of 40 flights were paid for on the card provided to Cleveland Police Authority chief executive Joe McCarthy. Several were to the South West where private company Reliance, which has a multi-million pound contract with Cleveland Police, had a headquarters.

In addition, cars were hired from Bristol airport on 10 separate occasions at a total cost of £1,353.64. A further £720 was spent on car hire elsewhere in the country.

Reliance, which began running support services for Cleveland Police in 2007, is based in Bristol and the trips to the South West may have involved Mr McCarthy carrying out police authority business.

However, it is unclear why car hire was so frequently required as the airport is only around 10 miles from the Reliance office.

Cleveland Police Authority was unable to provide a detailed response on the car hire from Bristol airport as the specifics of Mr McCarthy’s credit card usage are under police investigation.

Commenting more generally, a spokesman said: “The authority has a local contract in place for car hire. Whether the provider at the time had the ability to provide vehicles within the Bristol area and if so whether it would have been cheaper than hiring a vehicle from the Bristol area is impossible to say in retrospect.

“It is difficult to analyse the location of all suppliers that Cleveland Police Authority have and did have relationships with, although we can confirm that Reliance is a significant supplier to the authority with a location in the Bristol area.”

After Mr McCarthy stepped down following seven years as police authority chief executive in June 2010 he became managing director of Reliance Police Support Services.

The card was used several times to buy fuel but the records do not specify which vehicle was being used at the time. Fuel bought for business use in a hire car was deemed acceptable but not fuel bought for a private car.

Many of the flights paid for on Mr McCarthy’s corporate credit card were reasonably priced though there were two that topped £500, including one of £513 booked with the now-defunct Air Southwest which had a hub at Bristol airport. A single payment of £516.76 was also made to easyJet.

It is unclear what rationale was used to justify the cost of the flights.

Although most of the flight payments – spread between 2006 and 2010 – were under £200, there were several that cost significantly more. A single payment of £412.20 was made to British Airways, two payments of £390.95 and £386 to British Midland, one of £316.70 to Jet2.com and one of £363.92 to Flybe.

Mr McCarthy’s credit card records also include a £640 payment to a travel agent in Newcastle and £265.48 to another travel agent based in Barnstaple.

There are in excess of 90 payments to hotels, with a biggest individual spend of £753.85 at the Malmaison in Leeds, closely followed by £750 for the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne.

A further £464.15 went on a stay at the Park Plaza in London, £405.88 at the City Inn, also in the capital, and £446.40 at the Parkmore Hotel in Stockton. There were also four payments of £430 made on the same day for the Holland House in Cardiff.

It is not known how many hotels were booked by Mr McCarthy for his own use or how many times rooms may have been booked for other police authority staff.

Cleveland Police Authority said it could not comment on what the spending on specific hotels was for while police inquiries continue.

But a spokesman said: “The authority does have a contract for organising and booking travel and accommodation arrangements. There are occasions when due to short notice of the need to travel, better deals being available via the internet or going direct to supplier, or where specific hotels and providers of travel arrangements will only accept credit card payments that they are then arranged outside of this contract and are paid for with a credit card.”